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Internet Essentials, Comcast

How David L. Cohen And Comcast Are Using 100% Of Their Brains


Did you know that the average individual uses only 5% of their brains. At the same time, it is said that Gold Medal-winning Olympic Athletes use 40% of their brains?


That’s a significant difference and makes me wonder to what extent six time Olympic Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee uses her brain in this regard. I already know how she is using it, currently, on behalf of kids. She’s, once again, teamed up with David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer--Comcast, to expand the brainpower and, ultimately, the opportunities for children (and now seniors) growing up in low-income communities through a program called

Internet Essentials.


I’d say, given the many choices David L. Cohen and Comcast could have made in spokespeople for this program, choosing Jackie Joyner-Kersee and then teaming her up with Telemundo’s own Adamari López makes leader, program, and company pretty darn brilliant too.


No doubt Comcast is using 100% of its brain in the continued roll out and expansion of this program and I suggest you do the same by learning more about Internet Essentials through David L. Cohen’s interview below.  


You were recently in Hartford to talk about the digital divide and what Comcast is doing about it.  For readers who may not be familiar with Internet Essentials, can you describe what the program is?

Comcast is the country's largest internet service provider.  So, we felt a responsibility to take the lead to try to address the critical issue of the digital divide.  Nationally, roughly a quarter of non-connected households are located in areas where the broadband network has not been built out.  This is generally in remote stretches of rural America, including tribal lands.  But the other three-quarters of unconnected families – as much as a quarter of the total U.S. population – live in mostly urban areas where broadband is built out to the front of their homes, yet they choose to remain disconnected.  The question is why?


The usual reason for this is cost.  And it’s certainly a factor, but the research made clear that cost is not the major barrier to broadband adoption.  The number one barrier – by a mile – is a bucket of complex digital literacy and relevance issues.  Many of the unconnected just don't understand the technology or how to use it.  Equally important, they don't understand the relevance the Internet has to their lives, and the well-being of their families.


We designed Internet Essentials, which includes three key features, to address each one of the major identified barriers to broadband adoption:

  • A high-speed Internet connection for $9.95 a month, along with in-home WiFi for no additional charge.  

  • The option to purchase a subsidized computer for under $150.

  • And, most importantly, free digital literacy skills training for family members of all ages.  In English and Spanish.  In print, in person, and on-line.


What are the primary qualifiers for the program?

Originally, we designed Internet Essentials for families with children eligible to receive a free school lunch from the National School Lunch Program.  Over the years, we’ve expanded eligibility 10 times.  Today, it is now available to households with school-age children eligible either for a free or a reduced price lunch, all households living in HUD-assisted housing (including Public Housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, or Multifamily), and, in select markets, to low-income senior citizens and community college students.


Share evidence that Internet Essentials is working. Are there any positive results arising from Internet Essentials you did not anticipate but are happy to see occurring post implementation?

When Comcast launched Internet Essentials six years ago, we honestly had no idea how it would be received or how many low-income Americans we could reach.  No one had ever tried anything this ambitious in the broadband adoption space before.  We certainly wouldn’t have predicted the program would become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption initiative for low-income Americans, connecting more homes than all other similar programs combined – by several orders of magnitude.


We have now connected four million people, in one million households, to the Internet at home, most of them for the first time in their lives.  What’s more, we’re seeing continued strength in the program’s momentum as well, with the first six months of 2017 seeing more new connections than any other six-month period in our history.  The benefits of the program are real and tangible.  We surveyed Internet Essentials customers about their experience and 98 percent said their children use the program’s Internet service for schoolwork, while 93 percent feel the Internet service has had a positive impact on their child’s grades.  Moreover, 62 percent feel the Internet service helped someone in the household locate or obtain employment.


Share some of the locations Internet Essentials exists today.

The program is available across Comcast’s entire service area, which includes 39 states plus the District of Columbia.  We serve most of the largest cities in America, including Chicago, Denver, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and many others, including Hartford.  It’s almost easier to say where we don’t offer the program.  It’s not offered in New York City, Los Angeles, or Dallas, because Comcast doesn’t serve those markets.


Many would say that Jackie Joyner-Kersee represents only one segment of our low-income population and that choosing her, alone, as your spokesperson for the Internet Essential program represents an inaccuracy that serves to fuel the already explosive racial divide growing in our nation as well as feed a harmful stereotype that holds many African American, low-income kids back from viewing “education” as their true road out of poverty. How might you answer this concern?

The success of Internet Essentials would never be possible without the partnership of over 9,000 community-based organizations, schools, libraries, elected officials, and businesses whose tireless efforts have helped close the digital divide for so many other constituents.  Two years ago, we announced that Jackie Joyner-Kersee, six-time Olympic medalist and the heptathlon world record holder, was going to serve as our national spokeswoman for Internet Essentials.  She runs an amazing community-based foundation in East St. Louis where she has seen first-hand the effects of the digital divide in her own community.  This year, we also added a national Hispanic spokeswoman for Internet Essentials – Adamari López, host of Telemundo’s Un Nuevo Día, who is the program’s first ever national Hispanic spokesperson.  She has a tremendous following on social media.  The combination of Jackie and Adamari helps us reach two of the most important demographics for the program.


Why not open this program up to the hard-working middle class, who are doing everything they can to feed, clothe, and educate their families, only to remain almost equal in economic standing to low-income families after taxes? Shouldn’t these people be recognized and rewarded for their efforts?

We are constantly evaluating our Internet Essentials program and considering expanding it to new populations.  In fact, over the past six years, we have increased eligibility 10 times.  Last year, for example, we made our biggest expansion ever by offering Internet Essentials to anyone receiving HUD housing assistance, many of whom are seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, or adults with no children living in their household.  But we know that broadband adoption requires much more than an announcement and a press release.  It requires an integrated, wrap around program, with trusted partners and that takes time to develop relationships and figure out, but we’re open to evaluating new populations for the program.  We’ve done it in the past and I’m sure we’ll do it again in the future.


Why are you doing senior citizen pilot programs?  Isn’t Internet Essentials for families with kids?

Internet Essentials was originally designed to meet the needs of a specific population –low-income families with school-age children who are not currently connected to high-speed Internet at home.  Now that we have made real progress reaching this population, we have been asked by many local partners to consider expanding the eligibility for Internet Essentials to cover other populations in need, especially low-income seniors.  Although we do not want to lose our focus on our original target population, we have decided that we’re ready to tackle additional population segments that may be on the wrong side of the digital divide.  Research on the digital divide for seniors is clear.  According to the Pew Research Center, just 51 percent, or less than half, of seniors (aged 65 and older) have broadband Internet at home.  And the picture for low-income seniors is worse.  Only 27 percent of seniors with household incomes below $30,000 have home broadband, compared to 87 percent of seniors with household incomes at or above $75,000. That is a massive gap of 60 percentage points, which is roughly twice the size of the gap in broadband adoption rates between low-and high-income families with school-age children.


Amazing what can happen when you combine great minds with a winning strategy. Solutions arise and whole segments of the population become capable of helping the rest of the nation cross the finish line….and in the case of David L. Cohen's, Adamari López's, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s particular tutelage, quicker than we could have ever expected otherwise. They've got a shoe-in for an anchor.  What better way to guarantee the success of this program and young and impressionable minds who may not see it otherwise?


Many thanks to David L. Cohen and Comcast for making this interview possible


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